The Happy Beast - Blog - Animal Behavior

Brain Games for a Dog on “Crate Rest”

My dog, Pi, has been prescribed 4-6 weeks of restricted exercise, meaning she has to be kenneled when I’m not home, no running in the yard and walks no longer than 10 minutes. Restricting exercise is often a first line of healing for dogs with soft tissue injuries, but is also prescribed for dogs recovering from surgeries (including spay, neuter, and ACL repair) and broken bones.

For my very active, Aussie-mix, who is accustomed to at least two hours of walking, running and agility practice each day, restricted exercise feels like torture. It’s hard to explain to your animal why you’ve taken their fun and routine away for the sake of healing. So, I’m pulling out old and new resources and looking at this as an opportunity to practice calming exercises and brain games.

Teach and Practice Tricks: Eye Contact, “Ears Up”, “Lick Lips”, and “Leave It”

Pi loves clicker training. If you’ve never tried it, check out this video for the how-to. Clicker training essentially allows you to “capture” a behavior and eventually put it to a command. Eye contact is an easy place to start. Sit in front of your dog and simply click (or say yes!) and treat anytime she makes eye contact with you. For dogs who know how the game works, increase the difficulty by choosing a new behavior to capture. You can click and treat to reward any behavior. We’re working on licking her lips and sneezing.

Practice “Settle”

“Settle” is one of my dog’s favorite games. When she’s healthy the game is actually quite active, beginning in a standing position and running across the room to end lying flat on a mat, repeated over and over. She also gets rewarded for any calm signals when she’s on the mat: shifting her weight to one side, licking her lips, dropping her ears back, resting her chin on the ground. I adapted this game by removing the run and just rewarding the calm signals. Get detailed instructions here.

Beginner’s Scent Work

Canine Nose Work is a sport where dogs learn to identify scents (birch, anise and clove) and search them out in different settings. This problem-solving activity is toted for building confidence and burning mental and physical energy. I adapted this tutorial to teach Pi the basics without requiring her to move around the room.

You’ll need four small boxes, a plastic tub with holes poked in the lid, and smelly, tasty treats.

In the tutorial, your dog waits in another room while you hide the plastic tub in a box. In our adapted version, I’m using only four boxes, because I will be the one moving from the other room to where my dog is.

In a separate room, where your dog can’t see what you’re doing, put a few treats in the plastic tub. Place the tub in one of the boxes, then bring the boxes into your dog’s room and place them on the floor in front of her. Let her smell each one and once she indicates that she’s found the box with treats (for Pi, this was a nose poke to the side of the box) open the tub and let her have her loot! Repeat the game 3-4 times each session and play a few times a day for an excellent brain workout!

How To Provide Your Indoor Cat with Mental & Physical Stimulation

Let’s be honest, we love our cats dearly, but an unsatisfied cat can make your life…umm…rather difficult. Difficult behavior can come in the form of a puddle of pee on your bath mat or a half eaten phone cord or scratched up chair. Regardless of the form it takes, cats are not known for their subtlety.

Unwanted behaviors are more often seen in indoor cats because of their reduced physical and mental stimuli. Cats are born hunters, which means that they are programmed for exploration and short intense bursts of energy. When cats cannot naturally express their energy, the energy is redirected into unwanted behaviors such as inappropriate peeing and defecating, or destructive chewing and scratching.

We understand that in today’s world, it is not always possible to give cats safe access to the outdoors; either through cat-proof fencing and enclosures or trained harness walking. If you have to keep your cats indoors, here are some tips on how to give them the stimulation they need:

  1. Treasure Hunts: Hide treats around your house. This activity will mimic the tracking behavior your cats would exhibit when hunting for their prey. Start by showing your cat the bag of treats so they become familiar with the smell. Then place the treats in various places around your house, initially showing your cat where you are putting the treat. Ultimately, you will hide the treats without your cat’s knowledge. Rotate your hiding spots daily, and as your cat becomes better at “the hunt,” increase the number of hiding spots.
  2. Treat-Dispensing Toys: There are several treat-dispensing toys on the market that are geared towards different foraging behaviors: some role, some “fish,” some knock. Our cats enjoy The Egg-cersizer by PetSafe and Jackson Galaxy’s Cat Dice.
  3. Toys: Go Cat Da Bird and Go Cat Catcher: these toys will get your cat running and jumping. Just 20 minutes of hard play can do wonders for your cat’s physical needs.
  4. Play Fetch: If your cat won’t chase down a ball, throw treats against a wall or up and down the stairs. This is a great way to get your cat moving and a relatively effortless activity for you.
  5. Cat Chews: Last but not least – cats can chew just like dogs! Chewing on bones is a behavior we associate with dogs, but cats can receive just as much benefit from bones as dogs do; just on a smaller scale: Fish Skins, Duck Necks, Chicken Necks, Duck Feet, Turkey Tails… there are lots and lots of options! Chewing is a great way to keep your cat’s teeth clean and give them mental stimuli. If you thought that your cat eating plastic bags, cords, and hair ties was just a weird behavior, it’s not. It’s an indication that your cat is in need of additional stimuli. If this behavior is not addressed it can end up costing a lot of money in surgery costs. Chewing is an inexpensive way to fulfill this need.

How To Train Your Cat to Walk on a Harness

Cats are made for hunting and exploring. This is how it’s always been and always will be. Understanding the true nature of a cat allows us to address their individual needs and avoid unwanted behaviors.

While we understand that it is not always possible or desired to allow cats outside unattended, we do believe for cats who exhibiting restless or aggressive behavior, it is important for their mental and physical well-being to allow them to interact with the natural environment. We feel strongly that every cat benefits from fresh air and the sight, sound and smell of the outdoors. Fortunately, there are ways to give your indoor cat the benefit of the outdoors. Two of our favorites? Cat enclosures and training them to walk on a harness.

Signs your cat needs more mental and physical stimuli:

  1. Aggression towards people and other animals in the house
  2. Inappropriate urination and defecation
  3. Chewing and eating odd objects such as plastic bags, hairbrushes, or cords
  4. Scratching furniture and carpets

Many people think that having a cat requires less maintenance than a dog. However, indoor cats need lots of additional environmental enrichment because they lack the opportunity to hunt and explore the outdoors. A great way to provide your cat with the stimuli they need is to start harness training your cat, and yes it can be done!

Ideally, you would start harness training your cat as a kitten because they are naturally more accepting of new things. However, if your cat is older, the biggest trick is to make your cat think the harness is their idea by rewarding the desired behavior with a fun treat.

First Steps to Harness and Leash Training Your Cat

  1. Put the harness on your cat and then provide a treat. Do not put on the leash, as often times the feel of the leash on their backs is a big turn off.
  2. Try to get your cat used to walking around the house with the harness on by distracting your cat with treats or play. Continue this exercise until your cat shows that he/she is done wearing the harness. It is always important to make the experience positive and not push your cat too fast or too far beyond their comfort level.
  3. After your cat has exhibited ease and comfort in the harness, attach the leash. We suggest holding the lease up so that it doesn’t touch your cat’s back or drag on his body. We don’t normally suggest retractable leashes for dogs, but for cats it can be a good option that doesn’t touch their body.
  4. Ideally, you will be able to start your outdoor activity in a safe, fenced-in area. If you don’t have access to a fenced area, choose a place near your house (like a patio or porch) and be sure to keep the door open, as it is very important that your cat has access to their “safe zone” at all times.
  5. Cats are naturally territorial and like to expand their territory at their own pace. It is typical for a cat to slowly explore their environment so allow him/her to set the pace of your “walk.”
  6. Ideally, you should repeat this exercise every day, with the ultimate goal to take your cat out everyday for 30 minutes to one hour. It sounds like a lot of work, but remember dog people do this all the time and it will greatly benefit your cat — both mentally and physically.

Harness Rental Program

Try a few styles of harnesses to see what your cat might like best. Rent a harness from The Happy Beast. $7 for 7 days.

Important Tips to Remember:

We suggest scouting your prospective walking area during the time of day that you plan on walking your cat. Cats are both predator and prey, so if you find that there are lots of dogs out at one time of day, pick another time that is more mellow in order to reduce chance encounters with dogs.

In general, we recommend walking close to your home and not hopping in the car with your cat for a hike that’s miles away from his/her familiar environment. If you allow your cat to slowly expand his/her territory around your home turf, you have a safeguard that if your cat gets loose he/she will be able to find the way back home.

For those of you interested in taking your cats on vacation, be sure to scout out your pit stops before taking your cat out. Your cat should be 100% comfortable walking on a harness if you are planning on taking them to unfamiliar areas.

Catio outdoor cat enclosure at The Happy Beast in Lafayette, CO.*Remember that while some cats absolutely love getting out and about, for other cats, especially those that are skittish, it might not be the best expression of their energy. For these kitties, a cat enclosure may be the safest way for them to interact with their natural environment.

 

Our store kitties are benefiting from an enclosed “catio” since our busy store location in Lafayette does not allow for safe outdoor access. Check it out next time you’re at The Happy Beast!

 

 

Separation Anxiety: Behaviorist’s Approach

Separation anxiety is probably the most common behavior concern our customers have with their dogs. It is characterized by dogs who, when left alone, howl, bark, whine, house-soil and/or chew and destroy carpet, doors, blinds, couches, etc. Behaviors range from mild to extreme. Some dog may not eat when left alone, while dogs with more severe anxiety might break out of crates, scratch through doors, or dig under fences.

In January, I met with animal behaviorist, Dr. Juli Potter, DVM of Starwood Veterinary Care in Boulder County, to discuss separation anxiety in canines: what causes it, how to manage it, and when an animal behaviorist can help.

Dr. Potter explains that most dogs suffer from some kind of separation anxiety. We have spent thousands of years domesticating dogs and breeding them to be our constant companions. While dogs are not meant to be alone, we can train even the most anxious dog to be comfortable and confident while we are away.

Rule out or identify any medical problem contributing to your dog’s separation anxiety.

Dr. Potter recommends a full blood panel with urinalysis and a complete physical exam. Left untreated, pain and illness lead to and/or increase anxiety.

Practice empathy.

Coming home to a dog who has destroyed the house or getting complaints from neighbors about your dog barking can be terribly frustrating. Try to understand why your dog behaves this way. He’s not angry or “acting out.” He’s seeking out ways to cope with the stress he’s feeling. Remember, punishing a dog who is fearful or anxious will only increase his fear and anxiety. It may even teach him to avoid you.

Make life predictable.

Create a predictable daily schedule for you and your dog. A consistent routine reduces separation anxiety by teaching your dog what to expect. Feed, walk, and train your dog 2-3 times per day. Training sessions and walks don’t have to be long; 15-30 minutes for each is sufficient. Dr. Potter says the morning walk is the most important one. It allows your dog to burn up energy before spending the day alone. Need help with training? A behaviorist can design a treatment program based on your individual needs. Need help with walking? Stop by The Happy Beast to pick up business cards for local dog walkers and pet sitters in the area.

Teach basic commands.

Basic commands like “sit”, “down”, “stay” and “shake” help teach your dog predictability as well. When practicing, say the command, wait for (or encourage) your dog to perform the behavior, then reward your dog with a treat. Practice these behaviors for 10-­15 minutes 2-­3 times a day. Teaching basic commands and tricks is a predictable way to interact with your dog for it helps your dog learn what is expected of him.

Ignore needy behavior.

Ignore very needy, attention-seeking behavior. Dr. Potter says this is more challenging for the humans than for the dogs. If your dog jumps up on you, shoves his head under your hand to be pet, or begs for attention, you have to walk away and do not look at him. Giving in to these behaviors reinforces your dog’s constant “neediness” for you.

When you have to leave…

Be sure to ignore your dog for at least 20-­30 minutes before you have to leave.. By this time, your dog should have had a walk, a short training session and his breakfast. Don’t make your departure anything special or overly emotional. About 10 minutes before you leave, give your dog a special treat such as a Snoop filled with treats, a bully stick or a Kong stuffed with peanut butter or dog food. (Dr. Potter suggest filling a Kong with canned dog food and freezing it overnight.)

When to seek professional help.

If your dog’s separation anxiety is negatively affecting you or your dog’s quality of life, consulting with a behaviorist can make a remarkable difference. Dr. Potter explains that sometimes the things we think are helping our animals are actually reinforcing their anxious behaviors. A behaviorist can help you identify what is working, what is setting you back and also prescribe a training protocol.

In certain cases, a vet may also prescribe an anti-­anxiety medication. Dr. Potter explains that medications like these are a “band­-aid” and should only be used short term. The medication reduces the dog’s anxiety so that he can begin to learn alternate positive behaviors. As training goes into effect and the dog becomes symptom free,the medication should be tapered off. Anti­-anxiety medications inhibit the production of neurotransmitters in the brain, therefore a rebound effect, or worsening of symptoms, can occur if the medication is stopped suddenly.

Dr. Juli Potter, DVM of Starwood Veterinary Care in Boulder County offers in home wellness visits, behavior consulting and training. Her mission is to enhance the human-animal bond through knowledge, empathy, and compassionate care.